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Navy warship en route to sick toddler on sailboat

Associated Press Updated: April 5, 2014 at 10:47 pm 0

SAN DIEGO (AP) — A U.S. Navy warship was headed Saturday to rescue a 1-year-old girl who fell ill on a crippled sailboat that was attempting to circle the world.

Slicing the Pacific at 25 knots, the USS Vandegrift was expected to reach the Rebel Heart in the late evening or early Sunday, a Navy spokeswoman said.

The 36-foot sailboat was about 900 miles off the Mexican coast when it sent a satellite ping for help to the U.S. Coast Guard on Thursday about a sick child. A family member says the boat is owned by a San Diego couple, Charlotte and Eric Kaufman, whose daughter, Lyra, had developed a fever and a rash covering most of her body and who wasn't responding to medications.

The California Air National Guard dispatched four rescuers, who parachuted into the water and reached the disabled vessel. The team was able to stabilize the girl and pointed the sailboat, which does not have steering or communication abilities, toward Mexico, the 129th Rescue Wing said in a statement Saturday.

The rescuers stayed aboard the Rebel Heart and are keeping watch on the ill child until the Navy frigate arrives to transfer them to shore. The girl still requires medical treatment, and the rescuers planned to stay with her until she reaches a hospital, the statement said.

The USS Vandegrift is equipped with an inflatable boat and a helicopter, but no decision has been made yet about the mode of transfer until officials can evaluate the sea conditions and other factors, said Lt. Lenaya Rotklein of the U.S. Third Fleet.

The Kaufmans, along with Lyra and 3-year-old Cora, were two weeks into a journey bound for the South Pacific islands and eventually New Zealand.

Before the family left, Lyra had salmonella poisoning, but doctors cleared her to travel after she was healthy again, said Charlotte Kaufman's sister, Sariah Kay English.

English initially was in daily email contact with the family but realized something was wrong when the communication stopped several days ago.

English said she was told the vessel took on water every time the motor was turned on. It's now slowly moving using only the sails.

When her sister first mentioned plans to sail with two young children, English recalled, "I thought it was nuts."

But English said the couple were always careful. Eric Kaufman is a Coast Guard-licensed captain who introduced sailing to Charlotte Kaufman during one of their early dates.

"They were not going into this blind. I knew they were doing this wisely," English said.

English said the couple made a network of friends who traveled around the globe with children and always stocked the sailboat with more food than they need.

"They were very overcautious. They're not new at sailing," English said. Unfortunately, "sickness sometimes happens."

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